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"A Bulletin For Folks Who Love Mount Gretna. . . Wherever They Happen to Live"
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Mt. Gretna E-Mail Newsletter No. 91 February 2, 2009

Mt. Gretna E-Mail Newsletter

"A Bulletin For Folks Who Love Mount Gretna. . . Wherever They Happen to Live"
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(Note to our online readers: Color photos, hyperlinks to referenced articles and other features are available in the e-mailed edition of this newsletter, distributed without charge. Our readers' email addresses are never shared with anyone, for any purpose. The Mt. Gretna Newsletter has no political or commercial aims; its only goal is to inform, entertain and occasionally amuse its readers and an aging editor who enjoys keeping in touch with the world. . . and, especially, Mt. Gretnans near and far.  To add your name to the subscriber list, send your request to: mtgretnanews@gmail.com)

No. 91                                                                                 February 2, 2009

 

                                                 

 

 
Lake Conewago. . . in repose at winter

Winter's essence . . . and rewards

Even though it is the shortest month of the year, February, when it finally arrives, sometimes prompts among people who live elsewhere a desire to reach out and tap the "fast forward" button.

But Mt. Gretnans know that February holds perhaps the year's most valuable lessons of all. Its challenges call forth not only abilities that typically lie dormant in other seasons, but also skills that sometimes are altogether new. And, as Winston Churchill himself once noted, "It is only when new cells are called into activity, when new stars become the lords of the ascendant, that relief, repose and refreshment are afforded."

While bringing its welcome repose, February alsos frequently engenders a "let's get on with it" spirit -- a mild, but determined impatience that often manifests itself in creative, energetic people like those who have chosen to assemble here.

It is the power of renewal, ready to burst forth like those snowdrops, wild bloodroot and crocuses that, even now, pulse just beneath the soil. For Mt. Gretna attracts an uncommon assortment of resourceful people eager to spread their talents. And this is the time of year when they most yearn to reconnect to the world of arts, music, stimulating conversations and lively intellectual pursuits.

In other words, to the very essence of Mt. Gretna itself.

So this month's issue peeks into some of those passions: Stirrings that will add vibrant energy to this year's art show, unfolding musical events that make Music at Gretna one of the region's most engaging concert series, and multiple other pursuits as the town prepares for a summer season that lies just ahead.  

Readers will also discover in this issue insights into why Mt. Gretna has for more than a century enjoyed an enduring hold on romance, why an architectural feature all but forgotten elsewhere now sustains the appeal of Mt. Gretna real estate even in recessionary times, and why those who climb Governor Dick mountain are rewarded with breathtaking daytime views as well as illuminating insights into the nocturnal adventures of owls and other wildlife.  

It's all here in an issue that we hope will remind us that, however alluring those "lose-yourself-in-the-Caribbean" posters, one does not need to travel. The wintertime glories of Mt. Gretna have few rivals.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     (Dale Grundon photo)

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VALENTINE'S DAY REPORT: THE "GRETNA CONNECTION"'

Geoffrey Chaucer may have invented Valentine's Day, but anyone probing the intricacies of romance simply can't avoid the "Gretna Connection."

Gretna Green, after all, is the tiny Scottish town where 4,000 or so couples go each year to get married.

Mt. Gretna may
The Mt. Gretna Inn: Where romantic sparks often turn into weddings not be in that league. But given the town's size (pop. 1,500, more or less) and demographics (21.9% of us are are over 65) a disproportionate number of marriages do take place here each year -- about 30 by our estimate.

They are held at intimate spots like the
Mt. Gretna Inn (left), the Timbers, the Campmeeting's Tabernacle, Chautauqua's Hall of Philosophy and sometimes even at the fire hall or the Playhouse. 

Then there are those Mt. Gretna-inspired marriage proposals, countless in number, which are apt to occur at any time and in the most unlikely of places, including atop the 60-ft. Governor Dick Tower.

Our reputation as a spot where Cupid's arrow lands with devastating accuracy is legendary. Even during the Korean War, local gals regarded Mt. Gretna's former Nike Air Defense radar station as "a good place to find a husband."

But that's not where John Hambright met Betsy; theirs was a lakeside romance that began in 1950. After exchanging vows on Valentine's Day three years later, they enjoyed many Mt. Gretna summers together. So much so that they moved here permanently 19 years ago, celebrating a Golden Wedding anniversary before Betsy passed away last year.

Other Mt. Gretnans also found their wives and husbands here. The late Tom Ebright (who led a successful campaign to restore the Playhouse with private funds after it collapsed under the heavy snows of 1994) proposed to his lifetime mate at the Tabernacle. It's a memory that Joyce Ebright, who now lives in Timber Bridge, will cherish forever.

David and Elaine Pierce met as camp counselors here in the 1950s. After their marriage two years later, they embarked on a lifetime of worldwide adventures while he served as a military chaplain. But their hearts yearned for Mt. Gretna. And eight years ago they returned to live permanently on Chatuaqua's Lancaster Avenue.

Michael and Joan Sherman fell in love with Mt. Gretna even before their wedding reception in the cozy surroundings of Mt. Gretna Heights' Community Building. After living for a few years on Locust Avenue, they moved away -- called by Michael's duties with the Pennsylvania state government. Yet they, too, longed to return. And after 25 years, they succeeded -- moving in 2007 to their new home in the Chautauqua.

What's the attraction?

Some say it's the
Ley Lines, whose mystical powers emit peace, harmony and love wherever they transect on the earth's surface. Mt. Gretna, say the New Agers, is one of those spots.

Marriage and family therapist Michael Russell, who once lived along Yale Avenue, doesn't necessarily believe in the Ley Lines theory, but he's nevertheless fascinated by the power they seem to hold over people. "Ever notice how many couples walk around town holding hands?" he says.

Others, who are drawn to less mystical notions, simply attribute Mt. Gretna's romantic powers to more conventional themes: mixtures of moonlight, canoes and winding streets that weave an intoxicating web beneath the canopies of century-old trees.

Then, of course, there's the unmistakable element of sheer magic. Like the time about seven years ago when Adria Devereaux, a water color artist from New Jersey, strolled through the fairy garden on Pennsylvania Avenue. She leaned over to pick up a tiny box, offered on the extended hand of a fairy statue. Opening it hesitantly, she discovered a diamond. Then she turned to find, standing nearby, a smiling Craig Shrawder.

Mr. and Mrs. Shrawder, who now make their home along the Hudson River in New York, will probably return this summer to visit Craig's parents, Gary and Maryanne, who live along Television Hill on Northwood Drive. Accompanying them on another stroll through the fairy garden will be their 3-year-old son, Jackson -- searching ,no doubt, for magic.

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[] No Kids Art Show this summer? Art Show director Linda Bell surely The Kids Art Show: In Jeopardy?hopes that won't happen.
"It's very important that the Kids Art Show does not go away," she says.
Yet since former Kids Show committee leader Sue Loehr moved to Lebanon, Linda has contacted several people whose names were suggested as possible replacements. So far, however, no one has said yes. "And it's February already," says Linda.                                                                                         
(Dale Grundon photo)                        

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GRETNA THEATER: STIRRING, SELECTING & SUSTAINING

[] If you were a teen in the days before JFK's inaugural, you're apt to love this Gretna Theater
preview video of the 2009 season opener -- guaranteed to stir memories for anyone who ever sipped cokes, cruised drive-ins in convertibles and rocked with Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper.

[]
Auditions for this season's productions begin March 7 at the Mt. Gretna fire hall; and in New York March 16, 19, 20 and 21.

[] Development director
Roger Sands has an armful of ways to help this year -- buying tickets, advertising in the 12,000-copy playbill and making generous donations that, now more than ever, are needed to sustain Mt. Gretna's live theater tradition. Email him at: rogersands@gretnatheatre.com

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[] Two years of gypsy month attacks and drought continue to reverberate with devastating impact on the
trees surrounding Mt. Gretna.
State game land officials last month announced that another 3,400 trees will be coming down west of town along Route 117. That's in addition to the 10,700 already slated for removal as logging trucks start making their four or five daily trips down Pinch Road in coming weeks.
Game land officials say they'll spray for gypsy moths again this spring, but they point out the difficulties. "We're trying to protect trees that are nearly 100 years old," says forester Dave Henry. "Trees are like people. The older they get, the more vulnerable they are to stress."
The latest tree harvest involves an 11-acre stand of dead white oaks, plus 29 additional acres of Tulip Poplars (part of a
shelterwood regenerating project) near Colebrook. He expects they'll be cut down in April, about the time that logging operations wind up atop Pinch Road. That project, originally scheduled for completion in January, was delayed by sharp declines in lumber prices which slowed sawmill work schedules, Dave says.

[] Yes, they'll spray for gypsy moths again this year (
see aerial spray zones online). But, in Mt. Gretna -- where trees are integral to a way of life --no one should be lulled into complacency. 
True, the insect's egg mass counts appear to be down this year. But airborne sprays  aren't always effective. So officials counsel vigilance once the spraying is finished. "If you detect a problem, call in a tree service right away," borough president Chuck Allwein advised a Mt. Gretna Area Historical Society gathering last week.
County forester Leigh Beamesderfer cites another difficulty: Owners have the right to object to aerial insecticide sprays over their property. If that happens, helicopter pilots must avoid spraying within a 500 ft. buffer zone. "In a place like Mt. Gretna, 500 ft. can affect a lot of other properties," she says.

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REAL ESTATE SALES SLOW TO A ROCKING CHAIR PACE

Actress Sally Struthers, winding up a two-week run as "Patsy Cline" at the Mt. Gretna Playhouse a few years ago, confided to her closing-night audience, "When I get back to L.A., I'm gonna build me a porch."

After being in town only two weeks, the "All in the Family" star had put her finger precisely on a compelling attraction of Mt. Gretna real estate: Quiet evenings chatting with friends on front porches, afternoons in a rocking chair while reading a book, and childhood memories of days spent out on the porch playing board games -- all of which also help to explain the enduring appeal of Mt. Gretna cottages and why this real estate market  is among the last to feel the pinch of a recession.

"People usually don't buy property here with the hope of making a quick profit," realtor
Fred Schaeffer told us a few years ago. He should know: He's been tracking local real estate transactions -- including homes sold privately -- for a quarter century.

Yet in recent months even Mt. Gretna real estate has been buffeted by recessionary winds. The number of properties for sale -- while still under 2% of Mt. Gretna's 708 homes and cottages -- nevertheless stood at 13 last week. Not many by most standards. But close to a record wintertime high for Mt. Gretna, where typically only 25 to 35 homes and cottages change hands in an entire year. "And we haven't even begun the prime selling season," says Fred.

A cursory look at last year's sales statistics is misleading, he points out.  "They don't show the slowing in the second half of the year, when the economy tanked. Even though rates are at historic lows, nothing is selling. Today's sellers have lots of competition," he says.

Another industry veteran,
Emi Snavely concurs: "There are more homes on the market in Mt. Gretna than I've seen in years." But, she adds emphatically, "It's not because of the product!"  In fact, she suggests there's never been a better time for buyers. She points out that investing in a second home in Mt. Gretna is "far more secure than the stock market. You have something to show for your money," she says.

Joe Wentzel, who's been selling real estate for the past 25 years, agrees that today's low rates make now a great time to buy. "Here in Mt. Gretna, we're still in a decent market. Prices have come down slightly, but overall it's still good." Nevertheless, he points out that marketing methods are changing. "We are finding that newspaper ads are going to be a thing of the past. Last year, about 75% of our business came as a result of the Internet. There are many avenues to advertise, and that is where most people spend their time -- on the Internet," he says.
 

AT A GLANCE: MT. GRETNA'S HOUSING MARKET

 
                                                   2007                                         2008
Houses sold                                27                                                25
Range                              $95,000-$430,000                  $95,000-$450,000
Avg. selling price                    $269,800                                 $271,872 
Median selling price               $278,750                                  $266,000*
Most sales                       Chautauqua [10]                       Campmeeting [9]
 
Homes currently for sale                              13
Listed price range                            $129,900-$374,900
Listed mean price                                    $292,622
Listed median price                                  $305,000    
 

*The 4% decline is attributed to more summer cottages being sold last year than in 2007. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 In Other News

[] For this year's art show: A favorable forecast. Show director Linda Bell says she hasn't seen anything yet to suggest that the sluggish economy will hurt this year's art show, even though artist applications may be coming in just a tad slower than usual. But experience shows that about 40% of artist applications don't arrive until 10 days or so before the April 1 deadline.
Linda regards "slowdown" talk as mostly media hype. "I've gotten numerous calls from artists with questions about applying this year, so the outlook is good," she says.
Now in its 35th  year the show uses the ZAAP system -- a national electronic network for art show applications that eliminates the old fashioned method of submitting photographic slides. Around the third weekend in April, four judges spend a full day evaluating the work of 500 to 600 artists, nominating those that will receive invitations to exhibit during the Aug. 15-16 show.
Linda advertises the "call for entries" with ads in nationally circulated magazines as well as post card mailings to some 2,700 artists across the country.
Proceeds from the show -- which annually attracts 15,000 to 20,000 people and raised around $50,000 last year -- go to fund community-wide projects and services. They help pay for fire company equipment, a generator for the town's biggest well, summer movies and book review programs, landscaping projects, a fire hydrant that can draw water from the lake during emergencies, as well as funding that helps underwrite performances at the Playhouse.
Linda invites anyone who's curious about how art show funds are used each year to stop by her office and view the books. She also encourages funding requests from any organization that will benefit people in Mt. Gretna.

[] Growing up along Valley Road,
Erin Hannigan scooped ice cream at the Jigger ShopFor oboeist Erin Hannigan, a new CD. Now, as principal oboist of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, she's scooping up applause, awards and growing fame. 
She'll appear this month with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra. When the DSO travels next month, a few Mt. Gretna snowbirds in Florida may also get a chance to hear her.
Parents Stacy and Tim Hannigan recently caught her performance of Mozart's "Sinfonia Concertante" with three other DSO principal players.  And listeners throughout the country are hearing her
latest CD, "From HaFiz to Firewing (and beyond)," aired on Public Broadcasting Stations, including WITF-FM.
 
[] Looking for ways to brighten a frosty winter evening? Discover how Elmer really did turn to Rossini when he sang to Bugs Bunny -- in a Feb. 28 concert presenting music that you probably first heard at the movies, when it came time for the cartoons.
Other programs in
Gretna Music's winter series include, on March 28, Haydn's Seven Last Words of Christ on the Cross, "one of the most enduring testaments of faith in music." Performances, at the Leffler Center, Elizabethtown College, start at 7:30 p.m. Click here for online ticket orders and directions.

[] Brightening a frosty morning along Route 117 today (Feb. 2) will be Penny, the Penn Realty groundhog, dispensing coffee, doughnuts and cheerful greetings. Making her fourth annual appearance, Penny has never yet seen her shadow. But she has seen skeptical five-year-olds in Carol Mather's nursery school class across the street, who usually have tougher questions than the White House press corps.

[] Art works by Mt. Gretnans Eva Bender and Lou Schellenberg join paintings, sketches, palettes and process work of 13 other top area artists at a work-in-progress exhibit this month at Elizabethtown's
Lynden Gallery.
Titled "Palette/Palate Study," it opens with an artists' jazz reception, 5 to 8 p.m., Feb. 13.

[]  Governor Dick Park's next Polar Bear Amble begins at 6:30 p.m. Feb. 7 with a moonlight walk to the tower, listening and watching for owls and other nocturnal animals. It's an opportunity to learn how the forest's inhabitants find food in the dark. Meet at the Nature Center. Following the hike, there'll be hot chocolate and conversation.
Writer Ad Crable, in a
Lancaster New Era column last month, described the spectacular daytime views available from Governor Dick Tower -- glimpses of the Greist Building and new convention center in downtown Lancaster 21 miles away,  and "the vapor-billowing towers of the Three-Mile Island nuclear plant and the thrills of Hershey Park." It's one of several breathtaking scenes throughout central Pennsylvania, open to all who are willing to give up a little time by the fireside. "Winter, with the curtains of leaves and distorting humidity gone and views opened up, is an excellent time" to get out and explore the great outdoors, he suggests.

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[] Kate Dolan, whose custom jewelry and card designs appear on the Arts Council's website for Mt. Gretna-inspired artwork, says she's already had a few orders from distant buyers. She's among the nearly two dozen local artists listed on the site -- one that's especially helpful for people seeking to contact Mt. Gretna artists (including art show founders Bruce Johnson and Reed Dixon). Know others whose works should be listed? Drop a note to Jessica Kossoff.

[] Herb Braden, who lives just off Old Mine Road, heads Citizens' Caucus, a nonpartisan group looking into public issues such as planned increases in rates charged for electricity. If you'd like to keep up with developments, drop him a
note or telephone 717-964-1802.

Numbers

1st  Place winner in Central Pennsylvania Magazine's 24th annual Readers Choice awards again this year: The Jigger Shop in Mt. Gretna - voted the No. 1 ice cream spot in the region. Also taking top honors again in the coffee shop category, The Cornerstone Coffeehouse in Camp Hill, owned by former Mt. Gretnans Al and Sue Pera (whose Mt. Gretna family ties Sue now measures not in years, but decades.)

12 Years after they launched the first organ recitals from the living room of their Pennsylvania Avenue home, Peter Hewitt and Walter McAnney have made Mt. Gretna a favored performance venue for some of the organ music world's brightest up-and-coming artists.  This year their third-Thursdays-in-July recital series will offer five concerts, including two by top Juilliard students, a music faculty member from Millersville University, and two of the area's premier church organists.

59  Years of successfully chasing winter blahs:  That's the Winterites' track record, one they'll celebrate tomorrow (Feb. 3) afternoon at 1 in the fire hall. It's their annual tribute to founder Magi Stroh, with remembrances of those who knew her best. Coming March 3, native plant expert Ann Bodling tells how to make your favorite plants flourish -- even in the shade! 

$1,000  It's a lofty sum that takes a lot of work --calling on the combined efforts of half a dozen or so volunteers who create those scrumptious fire company breakfasts, like the one coming up on March 1.

Preparing for some 165 hungry patrons requires about 30 dozen eggs (scrambled or blended into strata), 60 pounds of fruit salad, four cases of breakfast sausage, plus 30 to 40 pounds of sliced potatoes.

Seeing everyone enjoy themselves pays huge dividends for the regulars who turn out to do much of the work. "But the most satisfying part is the money we're able to bring in for the fire company," says Karen Lynch, who's helped raise money for more than 30 years.
 
(Profits from the event once soared when a Mt. Gretna couple wrote a check to cover all the expenses. And sometimes volunteers find a few $100 bills stuffed in a fireman's boot, which serves as the collection repository for the pay-what-you-want admission fee. But big contributions aren't essential.  "We make a decent profit if donations average $10 to $20," says Karen.)

The 8 a.m. to noon gatherings seemingly become more popular each time they're held (on the first Sundays of March, July and November.) People showed up in record numbers last November -- savoring the pleasures of good food and helping firefighters while breakfasting with friends and neighbors. First in line, as usual: Stained glass artisan, raconteur and man-about-town
Dale Grundon.
9,000  Copies of Mt. Gretna's best-read book, the 2009 Summer Calendar, to be printed this year. Jim Burchik (964-3834) is lining up ad commitments. Deadline for full- and half-page ads and patron listings: Mar. 12.

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SUSAN E. McGOUGH (1947-2009)

Sue McGough took delight in baking pies and brightening days for friends, family, neighbors and, most assuredly, Lebanon's special needs children. Soon after moving to Valley Road 35 years ago, she became known as someone that her neighbors could count on.
She helped in her church; shared the joys of raising three sons with Richard, her husband of 41 years; and polished with uncommon joy the skills she had developed as a home economics major at Ohio State University. Her culinary talents found expression in cakes and pies that for many years delighted patrons at the Quentin House Restaurant and in recipes she tested for researchers at Hershey Foods. Mainly, however, her rewards came from sharing baked cookies, cakes, breads and pies with her neighbors; raising her family; and tending to her beloved grandchildren, pets,  garden and the needs of others. Paula Spicer, a close friend, describes her as "always cheerful, bright and happy." It is difficult to imagine a richer legacy.

ALFRED S. WILLIARD JR. (1915-2009)

Alfred Williard, a Campmeeting summer resident who for many years enjoyed with his wife Margaret their cottage at 501 Otterbein Ave., died last month at his home in Lancaster. During World War II he worked on the Manhattan Project, which developed the atomic bomb. Later, he became a senior staff engineer at Armstrong Cork Company and retired from Kerr Glass in 1981. He and his late wife had been married 54 years.

 

(Note to online readers: Color photos, hyperlinks to referenced articles and other features are available in the e-mailed edition of this newsletter, distributed without charge. Our readers' email addresses are never shared with anyone, for any purpose. The Mt. Gretna Newsletter has no political or commercial aims; its only goal is to inform, entertain and occasionally amuse its readers and an aging editor. . . who enjoys keeping in touch with the world. . . and, especially, Mt. Gretnans near and far.  To add your name to the subscriber list, send your request to: mtgretnanews@gmail.com)